Marieme Helie Lucas
interviewed by Claudia Ximena Maldonado Caballero
1.- Could you explain why do you say that religious fundamentalism are extreme right political forces? 2. You do a parallelism between fascism and religious fundamentalism. Could you explain?
One should analyze a political phenomenon in political terms, not in religious ones.
Muslim fundamentalists share many ideological similarities with other extreme-Right parties in the recent European past.
Just like Nazis, Muslim fundamentalists believe (not in a superior – Aryan - race but) in a superior creed – Islam -; like fascists they construct a mythical past (whether Ancient Rome or the Golden Age of Islam) that justifies their superiority – a superiority that grants them the right and duty to physically eliminate the ‘untermensch’ – and they include in this category: Jews, communists, gypsies, etc…; Muslim fundamentalists believe that non-believers or ‘kofr’ are also ‘untermensch’ ( some of them even used this very term !) who should be physically eliminated (remember that it is Muslims who do not adhere with the fundamentalist version of Islam that are first targeted by Muslim fundamentalists and are their first victims, as they brand them ‘kofr’ ); like fascists they are pro-capitalists; like Nazis they put women in their place ( church/mosque, kitchen and cradle); etc…
During the nineties in Algeria, a decade long attempt by Muslim fundamentalist armed groups to seize political power and impose a theocracy, people called them ‘green fascists’ (‘green’ being a reference to the colour of Islam) or ‘Islamo-fascists’. People were well aware of their political program. We had a ten-year long resistance to armed fundamentalism in Algeria and it made 200,000 victims. Armed Muslim fundamentalists slit throats, beheaded, burnt alive, killed and tortured in all possible manners the women and girls who refused to veil or persisted in going to school; they took them into domestic and sexual slavery and impregnated them so that they breed ‘good Muslims’ – just as Daesh does right now in Iraq and Syria. Muslim fundamentalists are against girls’ education, as one could also recently see in Pakistan and Afghanistan. No one in Europe would dream of justifying such atrocities in the name of religion today if they were perpetrated by ‘Christians’. But it seems presumed ‘Muslims’ do not deserve an equal access to universal human rights, freedom of thought and freedom of conscience.
How long will it take for the European Left and human rights organisations to defend the courageous people who, at risk to their lives, stand up to Muslim fundamentalists rather than their oppressors and killers?
3.-What do you think about the burkini? And about burka and hijab?
They are just flags for the Muslim far-Right, a show of force, a way to make its political presence very visible.
One should not forget that it is Muslim fundamentalist parties that are introducing these novelties everywhere in Muslim-majority countries: “THE” so-called “Islamic veil” – the Saudi style burqa that is spreading around the world - never existed before among Muslim believers in Africa (neither North nor South of the Sahara), nor in South Asia or far-East Asia where the majority of the Muslims of the world live … Muslim women wore boubous, or saris or shalwar-kurta, or large dresses, etc… Our traditional ways of clothing are being ‘disappeared’ under the Saudi uniform – where are the defenders of our cultures???
Moreover, one should never look at this ‘veil’ question without also looking at the other demands made by Muslim fundamentalists; for instance, in France, they demand separate cursus for boys and girls in free, secular state schools, ban on evolutionism classes, graphic arts classes, gym classes for girls; veiling of girls under adult age in primary and secondary free secular state schools; women-only personnel (doctors, nurses, etc…) for women patients in free state hospitals; separate swimming pools for women… And in other countries in Europe and North America, they demanded (and sometimes were granted) sex segregation in universities, religious arbitration in family matters, religious inheritance laws (unfavorable to women), etc… i.e. separate laws that would grant unequal rights to different categories of citizens – in the UK, there exist more than a hundred so-called sharia courts, whose judgments are recognized under the British law !
In other words, this is the end of democracy (under democracy, laws are voted and can be changed by citizens), and the advent of theocracy (when laws are imposed and unchangeable, in the name of god, as interpreted by conservative old clerics). This is also the end of citizenship: people will be forced to belong to a ‘community’ and be ruled by separate laws, by virtue of their family’s geographical origin. Not exactly a step forward…
In Muslim-majority countries, fundamentalists preach not just for the adoption of burqa in places where it was unheard of till recently, but also, for instance, for the introduction of FGM as an Islamic practice, while it is known to be a pre- Islamic tradition of Ancient Egypt and limited to its sphere of influence in Africa… Muslim fundamentalists select and chose the most anti-women practices, in a totally syncretic manner, then they declare that ‘this is Islam’ and whoever disagrees is against Islam, ‘islamophobic’, or ‘kofr’, etc…Why is it assumed by well meaning progressive people in Europe that fundamentalists, i.e. neo-fascist religious extreme-Right, represent and defend ‘Islam’? Why is it assumed that all those who oppose fundamentalists are anti-Islam renegades – and that therefore, if they get killed, well… they deserved to die? Why are secularists considered ‘Islamophobic’ when they are only anti-fundamentalist?
4.-The Australian designer Aheda Zanetti; who created the burkini, said she created it to give freedom for the woman. What do you think about that?
Capitalism has no nationality, no color, no gender; some people are prepared to trade women’s rights for big business. As for the claim that burkini grants women freedom – so does the wig of orthodox Jewish women… for if they did not wear one, they would not be able to step out of the house ! Some fundamentalists also claim that veiling women grant them freedom; and even that secluding women ‘protects’ them; etc… Pimps also pretend to protect the freedom of prostitutes.
5.-Some people say the woman can choose her clothes, including if she wants burkini, or burka. What do you say about that?
The question of women’s ‘choice’ has been discussed many a time by feminists the world over. We all know that women are put under heavy pressure to conform, be it by the family, the village, the community – for fear of being rejected and made an outcast; and please tell me what ‘choice’ does one have if the punishment for not choosing the right costume can lead to death penalty, as has been the case in Algeria, in Mali, in Sudan, in Afghanistan, in Iran, etc…under the fundamentalists’ boot. The fact is that women’s bodies are instrumentalized both by those who want to cover them and by those who want to uncover them. Women’s bodies are a battlefield.
The best example I know about ‘choice’ is from Senegal: during the marriage ceremony, the man has to sign whether he accepts a monogamous marriage or wants a polygamous one. Usually the bride has discussed this in advance with the groom and he has said that, of course, he will sign for a monogamous marriage. But when in front of the registrar, he suddenly declares he wants a polygamous marriage. His wife-to-be can, of course, theoretically speaking, in front of hundreds of guests and the two extended families and friends, send him to hell and say publicly that he betrays his promise to her and she will not marry him. But usually she does not dare do that, because the price to pay will be far to high, both for her and for her family. Free ‘choice’, hey?
In Europe today there is an enormous pressure on women of Muslim heritage to obey fundamentalist orders and wear an ‘Islamist’ (rather than ‘Islamic’) costume. Not so long ago, young women have been killed for refusing to comply, in the suburbs of big cities in France. Who protects those who make an independent choice?
6.- You compare to use veil with, for example, use a svastic brooch. Could you explain that comparison? Could we make the same comparison between burkini and a svastic brooch?
I said that in a specific context: that women adopting ‘the veil’ (Saudi style) today in Europe, while their mothers (and sometimes their grand mothers) did not wear any, was a sign of belonging to a political extreme-right movement. It was like carrying the flag of this movement. Wearing a burkini, today, on the beaches in Southern France, is obviously a political statement. Either by the woman herself, or by the males in her family.
7.-What things feed the youth radicalization?
How could there be a single factor that applies in Algeria, in Pakistan, in Bangladesh, in Mali, in Nigeria, in Singapore, in France, in Canada, in Australia, etc…
And how does one explain that in Europe, at the moment for instance, many people including youth, now vote for traditional extreme-Right parties like National Front in France?
8.- What happens with the woman rights, the reproductive rights, in cases like Chile, where the abort is forbidden in every circumstances?
I am glad you raised this question. Precisely, the progressive forces and feminists are very clear when they witness the Catholic Church’s curtailing the rights of women: they do condemn the Church’s positions ! Interestingly, when it comes to Muslim bigots, they do not find the courage to stand against them, as they are afraid of being labeled ‘racists’, ‘Islamophobic’, etc… I find this ‘cultural relativism’ extremely racist: as if all ‘Muslims’ were an inferior backwards ‘race’ and therefore as if it were ‘normal’ that they stand for backward ideas !
I do not believe that ‘Muslims’ are backwards, at least no more or no less than anybody else. I believe that, like everywhere, there are backwards and conservative and extreme right forces in Muslim contexts and that one needs to fight them; and I also believe that, like everywhere, there are progressive forces, feminists, secularists and enlightened believers who need to be supported in their fight against fundamentalists.
Feminists and progressive forces in Chile should apply their critical mind equally to all bigots and conservative forces, be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists. The rights of women cannot be contingent to a religious interpretation, they are universal – and protected under international human rights law. R!ght-wing forces working under the cover of religion exist everywhere and should be denounced and countered in all circumstances. Muslim fundamentalists should not benefit from special treatment: THIS would be real racism !.
9.- What role have the French right politicians in the burkinis’ debate?
The Right in general and the far-Right, in Europe including in France (or Donald Trump in the USA), use all the opportunities to express discriminatory views about migrants or even about citizens of migrant descent after several generations. 70, 50 years ago, the far-Right accused the Italians fleeing the fascist regime, then the Spaniards fleeing Franco’s regime to come ‘steal the bread of the French workers’. Did you know that in Southern France, at the turn of the XX° century, there were pogroms against Italians workers that made dozens of dead and hundreds of wounded? (and by the way, the same thing happened in Brazil and in the USA, no continent was spared!). It is the same now with people fleeing Daesh. They are accused – by the Right - of adding to the economic crisis and participating in the impoverishment of the French people.
The burkini is just another opportunity for the far-Right to make their voices heard… and to gain votes in the upcoming presidential elections.
This suits perfectly the Muslim fundamentalists’ agenda, as both the traditional xenophobic far-Right and the Muslim far-Right want a blood bath which would help both of them to recruit and radicalize fresh troops.
What is remarkable is that the French people, so far, despite multiple provocations by the Muslim far-Right, and even despite recent random assassinations and armed attacks on peaceful French citizens (among whom many of ‘Muslim heritage’), have resisted racism and not indulged into retaliation on any ‘Muslim-looking’ person in the street. Please remember that the only man who was shot at and died in the hunt for terrorists after the London bombings was… a brown-skin Brazilian citizen that the cops mistake for a Pakistani…! This has not happened in France, despite incitement by the xenophobic far-Right.
10.-Can we say that Daesh and Boko Haram (and others) are products of the coward politics? Or the left idleness? Why?
No, Muslim fundamentalists’ organizations – Al Qaeda, Daesh, Boko Haram, the Shebab, the GIA, Ansar ed din, etc… etc… - are not the ‘product’ of either coward politics or Left idleness, nor are they the ‘product’ of our undemocratic governments, nor of American imperialism. All of it certainly participates in the situation, but extreme-Right forces are surging again everywhere in the world at the moment, on all continents, in different political and economic circumstances – and not all of them in the form of religious fundamentalism.
The question you raise is: why do Nazism or fascism occur, instead of progressive revolutions? Probably because we do not have strong progressive forces anywhere at the moment, which could mobilizing people around a revolutionary project, and give meaning to their anger. The only forces that are on the rise are the extreme-rights, both the traditional xenophobic ones, and the new fundamentalist ones.
There is no doubt that the Left in Europe and North America failed to recognize the political nature of Muslim fundamentalism as an extreme right force. It would be great if, even now, so late in the day, the Left could come out with an analysis that would allow for an alliance with the progressive people in Muslim-majority countries and in the diaspora. And if the Left could support our efforts to combat the fundamentalist extreme-right.